Speaking to a troll, Gavin said, in part, “Generally on Andrew’s blog we play the ball, not the man.”
It seems like a very little thing, and I’m sure to everyone else it is, but it confirmed for me that my posts here aren’t just standing on their own, but they’re part of a community – a ‘we’. (Actually, I think my blog’s comments section is the intersection between two or three different communities, which is one of the things I’m happiest about). I like that that community is identifiable enough that you can make generalisations about it, quite casually.
While I blog in great part to get the thoughts in my head out of it, I also do it because I crave discussion, and I get that from the responses people post to my stuff, be it in comments here, or on The Mindless Ones, or Sean at Supervillain or David at Vibrational Match linking my posts, or Debi reposting my NHS post, or James Graham reacting to my posts, or even Charlotte ‘fisking’ me. It makes me feel like my ramblings have some actual importance…
And one of the more important people in the community/ies that this blog belongs to is pillock, who is one of several regular commenters here whose comments inevitably make me feel like I’ve not thought out my original post enough (if you count as a ‘regular commenter’, you’re probably one of these – I get regular small epiphanies from the comments section here – the comments to the postmodernism post being very much a case in point).
So, much like Millennium’s post about my quantum physics post, I think pillock’s post about my Crisis On Infinite Earths post deserves a reply.
His main point, that a reinvigoration of DC Comics was absolutely necessary, and coincided with Crisis coming out, is absolutely true. Immediately pre-Crisis, with a few bright spots like Moore’s Swamp Thing (and if I had infinitely many posts in this series before I exhausted the last reader’s patience, I would devote at least one post to how Moore actually made use of Crisis in ways few others had, and how Morrison references this in Seven Soldiers), DC was full of absolute crap. A while ago I downloaded a torrent of all the Crisis tie-in issues – which is to say every DCU comic from 1985 and 86 – and other than Swamp Thing , and some of Engelhart’s Green Lantern (and even that had horribly dated) there was literally nothing of any value.
On the other hand, the period immediately post-Crisis and for a few years afterwards was probably the most creatively fertile for DC since the late 1930s. Byrne’s revamp of Superman – though widely derided now – was regarded at the time as a necessary move. Giffen, DeMatteis and Maguire’s Justice League is still thought of fondly twenty-odd years later. Grant and Breyfogle on Batman introduced more new villains than anyone since the forties, Grant Morrison completely reinvented what could be done with mainstream superhero comics in Animal Man and Doom Patrol, and even the basic filler comics like Booster Gold had a base level of competence that was completely missing from even DC’s top selling comics a couple of years earlier.
We can debate to what extent this would have happened without Crisis – after all, Moore was making great use of the ‘outdated’ Silver Age concepts in his few superhero stories at the time, and my own view is that much of the change was due to the old freelancers who made up most of the DC workforce upping their game in response to the competition from the new blood coming over from the UK (the Giffen/DeMatteis League for example starts out as as blatant an attempt at a Watchmen follow-up as you could get). But I agree that Crisis provided a very good ‘line in the sand’ – we can talk about pre-Crisis and post-Crisis DC in a way we can’t with any other event. There was a change there, and Crisis was, if not the instigator, certainly part of that change.
I’m also perfectly happy to agree that on its own terms Crisis is actually a very good comic. Not a great comic – Wolfman’s purple prose stops that being a possibility – but a solid piece of superhero sturm und drang. Matt Rossi sums up most of my thoughts about the comic, and I can only add my own experience to this.
I first read Crisis when I was eleven or twelve, and the comic itself had come out several years earlier. At the time I had no real access to US comics except through British reprints, living in a tiny town, but for Xmas every year I was allowed to place a mail order for about a hundred quid’s worth with Forbidden Planet. I’d built Crisis up in my mind into some huge, legendary story that was totally unlike everything else ever – and when I read it, it didn’t disappoint me.
(You could actually do an analysis of Crisis as being a psychological journey for Superman – the archetypal superhero – as he rids himself of his demons (Ultraman) before fully integrating his child (Superboy) and father (Superman of Earth 2) aspects into one rounded personality. It’s appropriate that Superman is the only character whose post-Crisis changes really mattered).
But where I do disagree with Pillock is his suggestion that Crisis wasn’t ‘motivated by a nerdish need to enforce continuity’. To which I can only respond with these quotes from Marv Wolfman’s backmatter in Crisis issue one (well before any revisionism could happen):
Writers like to complicate matters and what began as a dream of a story – “Flash of Two Worlds” – had turned into a nightmare. DC continuity was so confusing no new reader could easily understand it while older readers had to keep miles-long lists to keep things straight.
Which simply isn’t true. When I was seven or eight I’d see random issues, out of order, sometimes printed decades apart, many of which were multiple-universe stories, and even then I’d never had any problem keeping track of it. Read Wolfman’s full essay – page 1 and page 2 – and you’ll see that he refers to the very idea of parallel universes as ‘problems’ and ‘complications’ and ‘nightmares’. While I like it as a comic it was very clearly created because Wolfman saw the very existence of these things as problematic.
What I find odd is Pillock defending this story with this reasoning:
All I’m saying is: there are always alternative narratives, and although weighing and judging them to see which ones have the better possibilities in them isn’t doing history either — is no closer to truth! — still as long as “history” isn’t what we’re doing, we might as well feel free to consider our different options. My story of the history of Crisis and continuity here, for all its inevitable lapses and inaccuracies, is at least as true to fact as is the Official Story…and maybe it even has a slight edge over it?
Which is in fact a big part – possibly the most important part – of what I’ve been saying in all these parts, and which is the very thing that Crisis set itself up in opposition to. The whole point of Crisis is a reaction against the very idea of ‘alternative narratives’. It’s a very Reaganite comic in fact – a bright new dawn, but you mustn’t disagree with the consensus. We can build a new future, but there’s only one possible future, and you’re not allowed to prefer the other possibilities.
Just look at that panel at the top of the page – “A multiverse that should have been one became many”.
“Should have been”. Wolfman appears morally affronted by the idea of multiplicity, alternatives, messiness. He wants a nice, orderly universe with everything in its place. And one can argue about whether removing all the ‘clutter’ is a necessary thing or not (just as one could argue about, say, Thatcher’s recreation of the British economy and the consequent destruction of Britain’s industrial base) but I think the impulse behind it is a worrying one, no matter what the result.
Like I said, I enjoy it as a comic, still – it’s one of only a handful of Big Superhero Crossovers that have had anything interesting about them (all the others have been written or co-written by Grant Morrison, without exception) – but it’s a good comic made for bad motives, and for once the early-21st-century consensus is probably the right one, overall…